Tuesday, June 14, 2011


It is the fuel that drives us to create. It is the fire that burns our minds and pours out onto the page as prose. It is the sway of a lovers hips that forces poetry to spring from our lips.

It is elusive and ethereal, yet without it, we cannot create.

But what, exactly, is inspiration? And how does one go about getting some?

Here’s the definition as it appears on http://www.merriam-webster.com.

Definition of INSPIRATION

1 a: a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation
b: the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions
c: the act of influencing or suggesting opinions

2 a: the act of drawing in; specifically: the drawing of air into the lungs

3 a : the quality or state of being inspired
b: something that is inspired (a scheme that was pure inspiration)

4 a: an inspiring agent or influence

I think that most writers tend to think of Inspiration as 1 a. For us, our divine influence is known as a Muse, whatever form that fay creature takes. I, myself, have and still use this definition. But, I think the danger with using this definition is the very ephemeral nature of it.

“I need to be inspired to write,” we as writers often say. “Inspiration struck!” is another great quote. But, both of these quotes highlight the point I am making. We tend to think of inspiration as something needed to write (like a painter needs paint, we need inspiration), but at the same time, it’s rare, difficult to find or just plain not around often. I think that as writers, being dependent on this unknowable, mystical force to suddenly drop ideas or stories in your lap is a bad idea, and one that I have spent time trying to stop doing myself.

Over the past few years, I have spent a lot of time thinking about inspiration, and I have come to the conclusion that it is really more along the lines of definition 2. The act of drawing in. I even like the second half, used as a metaphor. We draw inspiration into us in the same way we draw breath into our lungs.

But, I heard you say, where do we find inspiration to draw in? Air is all around us, but where is inspiration?

And this, my dear fellow writers, is the question. And my answer is simple.

The same place air is. All around us.

When I look out my window at work, I see clouds, a parking lot, other buildings, people, cars, trees, power lines, hills and the city of in the distance. On my desk is my computer, my little figures from miniature games I used to play, pictures of my family, a book on African Wisdom, my zoo calendar, a clock and various other odds and ends. I draw these in on a daily basis.

And I draw in other things too. Books I am currently reading, songs I listen to in the car, conversations co-workers have, my child and wife, and the things they say. TV shows and video games. I am constantly drawing in inspiration, all day, every day, just like I draw in air. All that input is stored in my brain, and it is my job as an artist to draw that data out and put it on the paper.

When I say “inspiration struck!” today, what I mean is that two or more of the bits of daily data I draw in have collided in my brain, and a new story idea has germinated. This happens to me often.

For example, during the recent “rapture” thing that was causing such an uproar, I heard on the radio that the guy who predicted the event once predicted the arrival of Jesus sometime in the 90’s. It occurred to me that if he was right, and the return was really a birth, then Jesus would be around 17 now. That idea, of a teenaged Jesus, collided with an idea I had of telling the story of a modern teen who discovered he had magic abilities, and resulted in the idea of telling the story of an American teen who learns he is the return of Jesus. That was inspiration striking.

But, more important than this, is the idea that I don’t need to wait for inspiration to strike. I can instead go through the catalogue of data I have been storing in my head, and draw out ideas. It’s not easy, for sure. Just like writing itself, it’s a skill that must be practiced, but I have been working on it, and I find now that when I say I am not feeling ‘inspired,’ I have the power to change that. I take a walk and get some new data, or I simply think about events from the past few weeks, and in a matter of minutes, I have inspiration. Maybe it’s a trickle rather than the thunder bolt most of us want, but a trickle of inspiration constantly is better than a thunder bolt every now and then. It’s far less painful, that’s for sure.

In the end, I have come to believe that inspiration is simply allowing my mind to do what it does best: gather data, percolate over the data gathered, and join together that data in new and interesting ways.

I hope that this article has in some small way inspired you.


  1. It's something what will touch that part of our minds that creates. Inspiration is an amazing event when it happens :)

  2. Chris,

    Inspiration comes in so many shapes and sizes. I've always said that as long as I'm alive and pay attention to what is happening around me, then it's difficult not to be inspired.

    Now, whether that means I will necessarily be inspired to write is a whole different question...


  3. def. like the air - everything is the inspiration the skill then is to use it.